An Ocean Passage: Rose Harbour (Queen Charlotte Islands) to Winter Harbour (Quatsino Sound, West Coast Vancouver Island). August 4-5.
27 August 2009 | Winter Harbour: 50 30.6 N, 128 01.4 W
Photo: Steve and Jigger, approaching Winter Harbour
"Queen Charlotte Sound, NW 15-25 knots." Those words on the weather radio were just what we wanted to hear the night before the 160 mile crossing from the Queen Charlotte Islands to the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Queen Charlotte Sound is called a "sound", but it is open to the west so from a practical standpoint we'd be doing an ocean crossing of a day and a half. We planned to sail south to Triangle Island off the northwest tip of Vancouver Island, then to Winter Harbour, the first major sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. By sailing out around Triangle Island we would avoid Scott Channel with its strong tidal currents.
By morning the forecast had changed to NW 20-30 knots, more than we liked but better than the 30-40 knots we'd been sailing in on the West Coast of the Charlottes. We headed east out the Houston Stewart Channel to Hecate Strait and turned south. At first the winds were light and the seas the usual short, steep and uncomfortable waves the Strait is known for. But as we left the Charlottes behind us, the seas turned to longer, more comfortable (comfortable is a relative term here, we were still doing plenty of rolling) swells and the wind speed picked up. The sky was overcast and hazy; Cape St. James at the southern tip of the Charlottes was only a distant smudge.
The northwest wind was directly behind us, which meant we had to go wing and wing. Because of the wind speed, we flew our self-tending jib, a small sail with a boom that's great upwind but when we pole it out downwind, the boom slams and bangs, threatening anyone working on the foredeck. In the Charlottes, we'd taken off the boom and sheeted it from the clew like a regular jib for better downwind sailing but we'd put the boom back on for this passage in case the wind turned to the south. A better sheeting system to allow us to use this sail upwind and downwind without the boom is definitely on our to-do list for the winter!
Just before dinner, I went below to wash the breakfast and lunch dishes that had piled up in the sink. I turned on the saltwater pump and was horrified to see it run pink and smell like antifreeze! The heat exchanger had failed. Steve immediately went into a planning mode and got out his computer to order a new one. He was worried about getting it fixed. I was just worried about getting to port! I imagined us drifting without wind off the Triangle Islands.
Fortunately, the wind kept us sailing through the night and when we had to turn on the engine to charge the batteries, it didn't overheat. The issue, according to Steve, was getting seawater in the engine so we just had to limit the engine use.
I had the early morning watch and as the wind slowly decreased, the fog moved in. I turned on the chart plotter and the radar every 10 minutes or so to check for traffic. But we were alone in this remote corner of the ocean. Sailing at night in the fog is something I have always feared, but I discovered it wasn't as terrifying as I thought it would be. Yes, you can't see but you can't see that you can't see. At 5 a.m. I watched the sails slowly emerge as white shapes out of the mist as the sky lightened.
As the fog lifted, the wind shifted to the south and although at first we were thankful we had left the boom on the jib, the wind moderated and soon we had to change to the larger jib anyway. We tacked down the coast in amazingly quiet seas. Our cat, Jigger, who had been hiding down below since we left Rose Harbour, finally emerged from his bunk to sit in his accustomed spot next to the chart plotter.
In the afternoon the email light came on and we turned on the computer to learn that friends Bob and Sherry Custer in their sailboat Ponderosa would be in Winter Harbour that night too. Outside Quatsino Sound the wind died and we motored in to tie up to Ponderosa. "Don't worry about dinner," Sherry said. "I'll make it. You deserve a rest." I can't think of a better ending to a crossing then dinner with friends.